The UCF Knights baseball team may have achieved a rare Saturday victory, but they dropped the other two of three to Houston last weekend.
While the Knights’ (24-19, 6-9 AAC) batters had their third-straight weekend with a batting average at or exceeding .280, the pitching staff struggled with its highest weekend ERA of the season at 10.33.
“We just got to continue to try to be better and get better,” Lovelady said. “Try to be the best team we can going into Clearwater and we got 13 opportunities left to go try to do that.”
Game 1: Just When They Were Back In...
Final after 10.— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) April 29, 2023
Despite closing a seven-run deficit, the Knights fell 13-7 in extra innings on Friday.
Starting pitcher Ruddy Gomez had his shortest outing of the season, only going 1.1 innings and giving up seven runs on six hits. The start put the Knights down 7-0 midway through the 2nd inning.
“He was just up in the zone,” Lovelady said. “I mean, everything was up. He doesn’t usually do that, he’s usually down in the zone, but just hanging stuff and leaving stuff over the middle of the plate up in the zone and that’s what happens.”
However, thanks to four RBIs from 3B Andrew Brait and three RBIs from C Ben McCabe, UCF tied things up by the end of the 6th inning.
“I’m really proud of the guys for fighting back and chipping away,” McCabe said. “That’s something we’ve always talked about is just chipping away, chipping away if we’re ever down.”
Despite the Knights getting a potential walk-off run to third base in the ninth, the game remained deadlocked, forcing extra innings. The Cougars’ offense promptly exploded with an RBI single, 2-RBI single, and a 3-run home run to put the game out of reach.
“Tough loss,” Lovelady said. “First two innings were terrible, last two innings were terrible. Everything in between was really good.”
Game 2: Expelling Saturday Sorrows
For the first time since March 18th, UCF got a win on a Saturday, 8-7.
The Knights started on the back foot once again after starting pitcher Jacob Marlowe allowed four runs on four hits in 0.2 innings.
Chase Centala had better luck, ultimately getting the win in relief after pitching 3.2 innings, allowing just one run on one hit, and tying a career high with six strikeouts.
“It wasn’t really what I saw, it’s more of what I was feeling,” Centala said. “It was more of being able to catch my breath, calm down, settle in on the target, and just go from there.”
Brait once again had a multi-RBI game, picking up two on a second-inning double. Things got tied up, 4-4, in the third with the 30th career home run of RF Tom Josten and 1B Nick Romano scoring on an error.
Over the next two innings, thanks to a couple of homers, Houston regained the lead. The Knights closed that deficit as well thanks to a home run of their own, a two-run shot from LF Lex Boedicker.
However, the credit for the game-winning run goes to RF Matt Cedarburg, who came off the bench in the fifth inning and hit an RBI single to bring home CF John Rhys Plumlee in the seventh.
“We got way too much experience in having to play from behind early in games, but good news about that is that we got a lot of experience doing it,” Lovelady said.
That one-run lead was preserved by reliever Najer Victor, who despite taking a hit to the calf, picked up his first save of the season.
“When runners are on base and I come in, I feel like I’m a lot more comfortable right now compared to before,” Victor said.
Game 3: Drop-Dead Drawback
Final after 8.— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) April 30, 2023
The series wrapped up on Sunday with a back-and-forth affair that ended in a 12-9 UCF loss after eight innings, due to the game passing a set dead-time.
The Knights’ pitching struggled all game. UCF’s starter Cameron Leiter gave up six hits and five runs in 3.1 innings pitched. The Knights would go on to use seven more pitchers, three in the 8th inning alone, who gave up a combined eight hits and seven runs.
“We just pitched terribly,” Lovelady said. “We just couldn’t get ahead. We get off to a great start, and then every time we score we just let them go back out and score.”
While the pitching struggled, Lovelady said that he thought the Knights’ offense provided a positive takeaway from the game. The team’s 13 hits helped them get out to two separate three-run leads.
However, for every big inning the Knights had, Houston’s batters responded with one of their own. This culminated in a five-run eighth inning, which sealed the victory for the Cougars.
UCF will return to John Euliano Park on Tuesday at 6 p.m. for a midweek matchup with North Florida. The Knights are 1-1 against the Ospreys so far this season.
After that, UCF begins an eight-game road trip with a weekend series in New Orleans against Tulane. The Green Wave (13-31, 6-9 AAC) ranks #177 in the RPI rankings, below the Knights’ #134 position. However, they do rank 2nd in The American in walks and home runs.
Headlining the bunch is 3B Simon Baumgardt, whose 12 homers only trail McCabe in the conference.
Player of the Series
Ben McCabe, Catcher
McCabe made program history last weekend by hitting a pair of homers that tied and then surpassed Chris Duffy and Bobby Kiser to become the all-time home run king of UCF Baseball with 44 career home runs.
“It’s very special,” McCabe said. “It’s something I knew about going into the season, and here we are. Trying not to think about it too much, just have good at-bats and I knew it would just happen and it happened today, so it was pretty special.”